Peaceful protesters march on U.N. office in south Afghanistan

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 03, 2011 4:06 AM

By Ismail Sameem

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Hundreds of peaceful protesters blocked the main highway in eastern Afghanistan on Sunday and marched through the southern city of Kandahar toward a United Nations office, denouncing the burning of a Koran by a radical fundamentalist U.S. pastor.

The demonstrations come after two days of deadly violence at similar gatherings, but officials promised a larger police and army deployment in Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, to keep control. The protests in Jalalabad, the main city in the east, dissolved after several hours.

"The demonstration in Kandahar today is a peaceful one with hundreds of people on the streets but security forces are to make sure no violence happens," said Zalmay Ayoubi, spokesman for the governor of Kandahar province.

"The protesters are now marching toward (the U.N.)."

Seven foreign U.N. staff were killed on Friday after demonstrators overran an office in normally peaceful Mazar-i-Sharif city in the north. Ten people were killed and more than 80 wounded in protests on Saturday in Kandahar, where men waved Taliban flags and sacked a girls' high school.

Afghan and foreign officials said insurgent infiltrators had sparked the killings, although a Taliban spokesman said they were driven by spontaneous emotion. Protests in Kabul, western Herat city and northern Tahar province were peaceful.

ANGER

Around 1,000 people blocked the main highway from Kabul to Jalalabad on Sunday and burned U.S. flags.

The protesters were driven by anger at the actions of militant Christian preacher Terry Jones, who supervised the burning of a copy of the Koran in front of about 50 people at a church in Florida on March 20, according to his website.

"We want the preacher who burned the holy Koran to get a severe punishment," said 20-year-old Jalil Ahmad. "He is not a human being, he is a brain-dead animal."

In an interview with Reuters on Saturday, Jones was unrepentant and defiantly vowed to lead an anti-Islam protest outside the biggest mosque in the United States later this month.

U.S. President Barack Obama denounced the act of burning a Koran but did not mention Jones by name.

The Taliban said in a statement on Sunday that Afghans were still ready to give their lives to protest against an offence that it said the West was not taking seriously.

"The U.S. government should have punished the perpetrators, but the American authorities and those in other countries not only did not have a serious reaction, but defended (the burning) to some extent in the name of freedom of religion and speech," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement.

(Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi in KABUL and Rafiq Sherzad in JALALABAD; Writing by Emma Graham-Harrison; Editing by Paul Tait)